“[M]y Republican friends seem to be itching for that war,” said Sanders, an independent who is openly considering a presidential bid as a Democrat. “When you sabotage the effort to reach a peace agreement by the leader of the United States of America — the man who is charged with dealing with foreign policy — that, to me, is really unspeakable.”
Sanders, one of the Senate’s leading liberal voices and former chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, detailed what he called the significant cost in lives and dollars of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Apparently, some of my Republican colleagues do not believe that two wars are enough,” he said, later adding: “I think that is a very, very tragic position to hold.”
A group of 47 GOP senators, led by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, sent an open letter on Monday to the leaders of Iran, cautioning them against reaching an agreement with the U.S. on its nuclear program. The senators wrote that an agreement without congressional approval would be “a mere executive agreement” and noted that the next president could overturn a deal when Obama leaves office.
Four potential 2016 GOP hopefuls — Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — all signed the letter.
The White House and several congressional Republicans and Democrats have criticized the letter as an attempt to politicize the issue and purposefully derail the president’s foreign policy goals.
Asked whether he would urge his Democratic colleagues to continue to support the president on a potential deal if negotiators fail to agree by the March 24 deadline, Sanders said: “The devil is in the details. We’ll have to see what happens. But I think what the American people want, what I certainly want, is to do everything that we can to reach a peaceful agreement with Iran.”
Sanders hailed the importance of trade unions in his speech on Tuesday morning and also took a shot at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential GOP presidential candidate, for signing right-to-work legislation in his state.
“The goal is that if you can disempower working families, it is easier to continue to push them down, it is easier to prevent them from organizing politically, and that is what’s going on,” Sanders said, aligning the legislation with corporate America. “That is an intrinsic part of the war against working families today, is to break unions, and that’s what Gov. Walker and his friends are about.”
The senator’s address — the first on a day that will include speeches from other potential Democratic presidential candidates former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland — struck familiar tones for Sanders, as he railed against “the billionaire class” and called for a grassroots coalition for a working-class agenda.
“Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes,” he said in one of his loudest applause lines.
Sanders has visited early nominating states New Hampshire and Iowa several times in recent months, most recently a three-day, nine-event visit to the Hawkeye State last month.
The senator, who has recently expressed frustration with repeated questions about his potential 2016 rival, likely frontrunner Hillary Clinton, declined twice to comment on her email scandal.
“I really don’t want to talk about Hillary Clinton,” he said, when asked about her upcoming press conference Tuesday where she is expected to discuss her use of a private email account used to conduct business while she headed the State Department.
At a speech and Q&A at Washington’s National Press Club on Monday, Sanders said he had received no constituent phone calls about the emails and that it’s “not one of the big issues” he’s focused on.
A Sanders adviser said Monday that the Vermonter is likely to make a preliminary decision on a 2016 run this month.